The artist's work comments on the power roles often played out at airport security checks
With his scruffy beard and black leather jackets, Roxy Paine has long attracted unwanted attention from police and security personnel, especially at airports. When the scrutiny intensified after 9/11, he became fascinated by the workings of security, which ultimately moved him to create his latest work: a life-size, forced-perspective diorama of a Transportation Security Administration checkpoint, complete with trays, conveyor belts, and scanners—all rendered in wood.
“It gets under my skin, the way humans assert power and control over others,” says Paine, who left home at age 15 and later cofounded the artist collective Brand Name Damages in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. “I wanted to tackle that feeling, investigate it, turn it around, and transform it—from an industrial language into the natural language of wood. The forced perspective reflects the contortions that security forces you to go through.” The piece, titled Checkpoint (2014), is at the center of Paine’s latest show at Marianne Boesky Gallery in New York, running from September 4 through October 18.
The 48-year-old artist has long been interested in juxtaposing the organic and the manufactured. Since he began exhibiting in the early ’90s, his work has ranged from polymer replicas of mushrooms and poppies to industrial machines that automatically paint canvases or plop out sculptures. “I like to take incompatible languages and translate between them,” he says.
Working with wood on a large scale is a recent departure for Paine. He and a team of four assistants and an architect spent more than a year on Checkpoint, making drawings, diagrams, and scale models of the objects before meticulously carving them out of maple or birch. Because of the forced perspective, no two angles are exactly the same.
The diorama is displayed behind glass, as if it were a habitat preserved in a natural-history museum. “I want it to be this strange, warped feeling of time that’s distant and close simultaneously,” Paine says. “We have these feudal, walled cities in our brains for different categories of information. I hope my work causes some of those walled-off areas to intermingle.”
A version of this story originally appeared in the September 2014 issue of ARTnews on page 38 under the title “Airport Insecurity.”